The action revenge film has become a quite popular sub-genre over the past few years that John Wick re-ignited when the man known to the assassin underground as the “Babayaga” sought revenge for the death of his beloved puppy. Since then, countless films have emerged in this genre, but none live up to the high standard that John Wick set. This year alone, two films have tried – one getting closer to recapturing that same magic since the writer brought both to life. What these films accomplish besides providing high octane action sequences and stylized fighting is giving the audience an action hero we never imagined could step into that role.
Obviously, Keanu Reeves fits the mold of this type of film and since starring as Wick his career has been given new life, making him one of the most in demand actors working today. Never did I expect Bob Odenkirk, a more dramatic and comedic actor to kick so much ass and be believable as an action star in Nobody. Then came Karen Gillan in Gunpowder Milkshake who shined in her leading role, but the film overall was more sub-par compared to the former.
I notice I do bring up John Wick a lot and for good reason. The trilogy, soon to be four film franchise gets a lot right and doesn’t miss a whole lot in the process – it really is the standard for how a revenge action film should be constructed. That being said, the next film to be added to this collection The Protégé certainly has the ambition to be granted a seat at the table, but that seat is far away from Wick and Nobody, sitting closer to Gunpowder Milkshake.
The more these films get made, the more of a formulaic approach to making them is expected. Anna (Maggie Q) is a trained assassin that was rescued from her home country of Vietnam after the murder of her family. Anna survived by killing the men who committed the murders and was then rescued by Moody (Samuel L. Jackson). Together, the pair travel the globe taking contract after contract, finding people who don’t wish to be found. After completing a job, Moody is killed sending Anna on a revenge tour that takes her back to the place she vowed she would never go back to – her home country in search for answers.
Certainly, Maggie Q and Sam Jackson have great chemistry together – really, pair anyone up with Jackson and the back-and-forth dialogue is magical but the duo that stands out the most in The Protégé is Maggie and Michael Keaton, who plays Michael Rembrandt, a gray area type of villain. Watching Maggie and Michael together – the sexual tension can be cut with a knife or perhaps shot with a bullet as the two play a pseudo-Russian roulette when out to dinner together. Their chemistry oozes charm and drips passion with every scene the two are in making it difficult to see one conquer the other in a gunfight or hand-to-hand combat.
I reference John Wick a ton because of what the film establishes. Who doesn’t want to see Keanu going berserk as an unstoppable force of nature? But the first film easily sets the tone for the villain – creating a character unanimously hated that audiences were instantly on Wick’s side. The Protégé doesn’t have that same villainous character to want to see end up dead. Outside of Moody, Anna and Michael, the supposed main villain of this story is non-essential. Edward Hayes (David Rintoul) is just the typical billionaire face that has no motivation or development. Michael could be considered the main villain of the film; he’s given purpose in the story written by Richard Wenk.
If you haven’t heard of The Protégé, don’t beat yourself up, the marketing for this film came and went without anyone taking notice. It reminds me of how Netflix markets their original films and shows – they don’t.
Behind the camera is veteran director Martin Campbell, most notably known for a couple James Bond films – Goldeneye & Casino Royale. Hes also directed the 2011 disaster Green Lantern, but that film should never be brought up in actual conversation. Directing one of the best Bond films in the franchise, Casino Royale, Campbell brings a brisk pacing to The Protégé that rarely takes a breath but when it does, its well-deserved,with tightly shot action scenes that prove unpredictable in the outcome. As much as Anna should be victorious, it’s not entirely a bad thing to root for Michael either. The action showcases Maggie Q’s skill and rightly so as Q was selected by the master himself Jackie Chan to be his protégé.
A bad villain aside, The Protégé is a serviceable action revenge film worthy of being in the same conversation as John Wick and Nobody. Mismatched pacing and plot holes keep this film from achieving greatness, but it still should be seen and discovered for its three stars performances and chemistry. The Protégé has the potential for a franchise with a touch of world building but not enough to catapult this film to the top of the summers list of movies to see. If a second film is greenlit, Maggie and Michael would be perfect together as a team.
Written By: Richard Wenk
Directed By: Martin Campbell
Cinematography: David Tattersall
Music: Rupert Parkes
Distributed by: Lionsgate
Release Date: August 20, 2021
Running Time: 1 Hour 49 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 60%
My Score out of 5: 2.5 out of 5